How often have you as a teacher heard these words? Students and parents come to you with their stories and you are in a quandary. You haven’t observed the incident reported, and yet you feel what they say is true. Your school has a no-bullying policy and you want to respond.
This month I want to address some of the facts on bullying and help to make you aware of the plight of the youngsters in your class who are affected by ADHD. Students play many roles in the bullying cycle. Sorting out each role can be difficult, as many of the bullying episodes are carefully carried out behind your back and out of the sight of any adult.
How prevalent is bullying?
Bullying has become a crisis in this country and across the world. It is listed as the number one cause of school absenteeism in the United States, and is closely linked to teen depression and suicide. In a Harvard interview of high school students, ninety-six percent reported having been bullied at least once in their lives, eighty-five percent reported witnessing bullying, and forty-six percent indicated that they refused to go to extracurricular activities because the bullies are there. Sadly, two percent of their classmates committed suicide after consistent bullying.
Other studies report that 282,000 students are physically attacked in our secondary schools each month. It is a sad reflection to learn that at least one event of bullying occurs every seven minutes. It is appalling to note that adults intervene in only four percent of these cases. Peers help eleven percent of the time, leaving eighty-five percent of the victims on their own with no assistance.
How do we define bullying?
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, hurtful or threatening, and persistent. This aggression can be physical or psychological, and it is repeated. There is an imbalance of strength, allowing one individual power and dominance over the other.
Where is the line between friendly teasing and bullying?
The bully intends to harm, intends to create fear, and intends to keep repeating the behavior. He or she is delighted with the power of intimidating another lesser-powered youngster. The key words here are intends harm and delights in control by power.
When the situation is one that involves teasing, both youngsters come to the situation with the same power or sense of ability. They banter about an issue and laugh at the outcome.
When the abuse becomes willful, the situation changes into bullying. Bullying is unfair and one-sided. It leaves the victim feeling hurt, frightened, threatened, left out on purpose. There is a line between rough play and bullying when the one with the power sets out to hurt the other. It is a power play. Hitting, teasing, taunting, spreading rumors, gossiping, stealing, excluding, and intending to harm are all means of exercising power. When the activity is repeated and the thrill of the power is accelerated, the attacker is a bully on a quest.
Bullies seldom own up to their behavior. They make excuses to adults for what happened. They play innocent, insisting that it was an accident. They explain that they had no idea that the victim wasn’t having fun, or felt embarrassed, intimated, or hurt.
Bullies target their victims. They want the power, so they look for and target students who are smaller, younger, or less adept. They seek out those who exude a lack of self-confidence. The shy child, the one with slowed speech, someone who walks awkwardly, wears glasses, keeps to himself or herself—all these children unfortunately become prey.
Students with ADHD are often targeted due to their acting-out behaviors. Sometimes they are cultivated as a friend and then attacked. Their impulsivity is seen as vulnerability; the bully taunts until the child with ADHD retaliates, and then the bully retreats so the child with ADHD is caught in the act and takes the brunt of punishment. After frequent attacks, the child with ADHD often turns and becomes the bully, reveling in the power of finally being in control. The cycle is vicious and needs to be diffused and understood.
Who is the bully?
Many folks associate the bully with a ruffian from the wrong side of the tracks, a child from a poor family who has a history of violent behavior. This may be true, but not always. It is true that boys tend to be more physical, obvious, and direct in their tactics. Girls on the other hand tend to be more verbal and secretive, and enlist others to help do their dirty work.
Bullies come from all walks of life. Some are the most popular leaders of the schools. Some are those who are aggressive and want more. Some are driven by impulsive behavior and find ways to gain recognition, although through the wrong means.
Students with ADHD are recorded as being four times more prone to bully. We must examine each case, however, to determine how the bully process emerged. We are not making excuses, just trying to see the process of this behavioral development. Those with learning differences are more likely to be both the victim and the bully as they try to defend themselves and retaliate. Thirty percent of children with learning differences find they are victims of peer rejection, and therefore are vulnerable targets.
Bullies frequently emerge from victims who have had enough. The child who is being picked begins to have violent feelings. Retaliation at all cost becomes his or her new mantra. Witnessing physical abuse at home or being abused leads to lashing out at others. The power gained by bullying creates a rush that develops into a need for more power.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the age of modern technology turns against us. Everyone knows a fourth grader is more competent with a computer than we are. When we interview computer-savvy teens, we find that forty-two percent have been bullied online, and twenty-one percent report receiving messages that were threatening. Yes, messaging is a way of life, but fifty-eight percent of teens admit to sending mean and threatening responses to one another. Of course, the “don’t-tell-an-adult” rule is alive and well. So teacher, you are purposely kept out of the loop.
Our ability to communicate instantly and respond in seconds makes the instant-messaging world a ripe field for attack, smear, and harassment. Unfortunately, anything in print is taken as gospel truth, so rumors can become rampant. Many times the cyberbullying victim is the last to know the ugliness written about him.
Attacks through technology come in two guises—direct attacks and attack by proxy. Direct is as it sounds, a frontal-attack text harassment, perhaps created through a blog or website. It is easy to slander by sending pictures, broadcasting internet polls or surveys, creating malicious codes, porn, impersonation. Intimidation by proxy involves getting someone else to do your dirty work. This includes, but is not limited to, passing slander between cyber buddies for an attack.
For example, a bully arranges a group attack by sending a widespread message to harass a student at lunch by ignoring her, bumping into her, and spilling food on her. This message is sent to many students and results in an unexpected, underhanded unstoppable catastrophe. Being aware of the power of such messages, teachers soon suspect cyberbullying when they see students ganging up on someone.
Cyber messages may be just rude or vicious and are often written without truth. Passwords can be hacked, leaving the bully an open field to impersonate their victim. The reader has no idea the message was a fraud and the perpetrator cannot be tracked. There is no limit to the damage a true cyber bully can produce.
Why doesn’t the victim just stand up for himself/herself?
Remember, this is a situation of power. Victims want to please. They frequently believe that what has happened to them is really their fault. They have been told to behave, and try to. Their parents and the school forbid fighting, and they try not to.
If the victim does fight back, the bully is savvy enough to back away, leaving the victim to take the blame for the altercation. The victim is told to ignore the bully, but the bully knows from the look of fright in the victim’s eyes that he or she has won. The more scared the expression, the stronger the taunt, leading to greater bully power. Often the abuse accelerates to a level of danger. The victim’s safety is in jeopardy and there is the possibility of a tragic outcome. The media circus begins, but the damage is done.
Who can change this challenge of power?
We’ve talked about the bully and the victim, but we have ignored the other players in this saga, the witnesses.
Seldom does a bullying event occur without witnesses. The bully needs someone to see how powerful she is and to verify her existence. She wants a following, to be a hero, so someone must see and tell. However, these witnesses, or bystanders, come in many “flavors”:
• First there is the vanilla bystander. This youngster watches and sees, but does nothing. He is just there.
• Then there is the strawberry witness who continues the harassment, encouraging and cheering on the taunting.
• Next is the neapolitan, who takes on the flavor of the most popular. This bystander is afraid of making his own decision or taking a stand. He is unable to be anything but what someone else tells him to be or do.
• Then comes the blueberry witness. This bystander comes waving a flag for the victim. She boos the bully and sides with the victim. This show of force rolls over the bully, diffusing the strength of power that the bully is fighting for.
As teachers, we need to encourage the role of the blueberry witness. We need our students to feel empowered by befriending the victim. We need to assist our students in identifying the roles of bully, victim, and bystander. We need to give each student a right to be safe and secure in our schools. We need to instruct and encourage students to support one another. We need to make it acceptable to report bullying as inappropriate behavior. Developing a safe environment, we need to encourage the loners to stay on the more traveled paths, to encourage them to have someone with them, especially the supportive blueberry variety. Being safe is to be less vulnerable.
Now, how does one stand up to a bully?
We’ve already determined that running from the bully is not the answer. Changing schools is not the answer. Make your school the safe environment where bullying ceases. A different school may only shift the child’s vulnerability to the next bully. Instead, let’s give our children survivor tools. But how?
Change their mindset
First of all, the vulnerable child needs to get over the idea that he or she should be a victim. He or she did not create this abuse, and it is not his or her fault. Sensitive children feel that they caused the abuse and that no one can come to save them and make it right. Some become so frustrated they react just as the bully expected. This makes them doubly vulnerable. Victims are not to suffer in silence and be pounded into submission. Lastly, they must not feel they can ignore the taunts of a bully and make them go away. That gives the bully the message that he or she has won.
Bullyproofing comes with an “I can and I will” attitude
One of the best preventive interventions is body language. Help your students create an assertive stance. Show them and help them practice. Make this into a classroom activity. This pride in self will support a student for a lifetime. Rehearse until every child in your classroom can produce a look of confidence, by learning:
• To look the bully directly in the eyes.
• Not to hang their heads.
• Not to look at the ground and mumble.
• To make sure of their movements.
• To make their movements crisp and sure.
Talk to your students about personal hygiene and the ‘put-together’ look. When you look good, you act good, and you show you are invincible. Your students may be at the sloppy age and careless about their appearance, but encourage them that a change in appearance may be a first line of defense against being attacked.
No one has the right to talk down to your students. Help them to learn appropriate assertive comeback lines to use in vulnerable situations. Help them learn to use the comeback statements wisely, so they do not backfire.
Remember, some of our students with ADHD are not readily aware of social situations and need direct instructions for those times when they just don’t get what is happening. Teach them that their whole presence is their best defense:
• Remain cool at all cost.
• Avoid the temptation to throw in the next barb and foil with the next sword.
• Instead use a comeback line.
• Your line must be brief and to the point, giving the message that he did not get to you.
• Look him in the eye.
• Have a poker face that shows no anger. Having hurt or anger on your face makes you vulnerable. Practice making a blank face in front of a mirror, a poker face that does not reveal any of your feelings.
• Don’t trade insults.
Encourage students to use these sample comeback lines wisely, to think carefully as to when they may be appropriate:
Oh, get a life.
How does it feel to be this mean?
Are you talking to me?
You’re wasting your breath.
If you say so, okay.
I hear you, but I don’t care.
Are you finished?
Are you satisfied?
I hope your nasty attitude makes you feel better.
I could care less.
Keep talking. I’m not listening!
Congratulations for being the King of Putdowns.
Are you bored yet?
You should be making me feel bad, but you are not worth it.
I should report your behavior, but you’re not worth it.
Mission accomplished, so move on.
You are really just wasting my time.
Put STOP into action
Now that your students have developed these vital skills, teach them to use the STOP method to put the skills into action.
Begin bullyproofing by looking your attacker Straight into his or her eyes. Hold your head high and stand with confidence, even if you are shaking.
Next, be sure no emotion shows on your Totally poker face. Remember showing emotions makes you vulnerable.
With a strong voice state your Opinion with your comeback statement.
Now that you have shown your strength, Pretend the bully does not exist. Totally ignore her.
Here is a chart to help you remember the STOP method:
• Straight into the bully’s eyes
• Total poker face
• Opinion—state your comeback
• Pretend he is not there—total ignoring
What are the consequences of bullying?
Victims of bullying are at risk for social, emotional, and psychiatric problems that may persist into adulthood. They tend to internalize their problems and are faced with bouts of depression. They feel insecure, cry easily, and are anxious and withdrawn, as well as feeling weak and submissive. Being unhappy leads to withdrawing from friends. Victims stop participating in extracurricular activities and feel unsafe in school. Often their grades drop, creating another issue that compounds their problem.
The bully loses his sense of life’s balance and is often disruptive, hyperactive, aggressive, and depressed. Needing the feel of power she develops social anxiety, has difficulty concentrating, is highly impulsive, and becomes more distracted, inattentive, hyperactive, and socially maladjusted.
Both the victim and the bully experience an emotional interference and often have symptoms of reading and writing problems. If a learning difference exists, these symptoms are compounded. These students often experience elevated anxiety and have a greater risk of dropping out of school. The stigma of the bully cycle increases the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse. Adolescents displaying these behaviors are four times more likely to be convicted of a crime by age twenty-four. There is no winner in bullying.
Is your school truly involved?
As we know, a lot of bullying happens in or around school property and involves student to student interaction. Many schools have a no-bullying policy and really want to enforce it. Many times action is impossible, as teachers do not witness the events, students have difficulty relaying what happened, and many denials and twisting of the facts occur. Schools that make a difference use a preventive approach.
David Olweus has made a study of the school community and created the most impressive bullying prevention program to date. Students discuss and define bullying. They are encouraged to make a commitment to speak up when they witness a bullying event and to befriend and stand up for the victim. They are helped to express their feelings and to speak openly and candidly through role-play and interactive activities. When the whole community works together, a difference can be made.
Assess the program that is in place in your school. What interventions have been put into action? What more can you do?
I’ve prepared an outline of resources and programs that I’ve collected during my search for answers. You may know many more to share. I hope you will reflect on the involvement you and your school have had in stopping the bully cycle. I look forward to hearing from you.
Remember, there is a positive message for us all:
• The student who bullies and who receives help can become aware of his or her behavior and change his or her focus on life. Of course, the earlier the intervention begins, the better.
• The student who is bullied can be empowered to assert himself or herself, move beyond the attacker, and heal.
• Bystander witnesses can learn to become empowered to care and stand up against bullying.
We can change the bullying cycle if we all work together.